Fact Check

Pic Shows Saudi Prince's 80 Falcons Riding a Plane?

The image, which has circulated since 2017, was seemingly taken from the plane's cabin.

Published March 29, 2024

 (Reddit / Lensoo)
Image courtesy of Reddit / Lensoo
A photo authentically depicts a Saudi prince's 80 falcons for whom he purchased seats on an airplane.

While the photo was authentic — that is, there was no evidence of digital editing — much of its backstory was unknown, as of this writing. We have reached out to Saudi Arabia's royal family and a Reddit user who initially shared the image, and we will update this post if we learn more.

On March 22, 2024, a viral Reddit post claimed a Saudi prince once bought plane seats for his 80 falcons [archived]. The poster did not say who the purported prince was and shared a picture of what looked like an economy cabin with dozens of hooded falcons sitting on boxes on seats: 

The post had garnered 41,300 upvotes and 1,700 comments at the time of this writing.

While the photo was authentic — that is, there was no evidence of digital editing — we could not confirm that the falcons indeed belonged to a Saudi prince, nor that there were 80 of them. We have reached out to Saudi Arabia's royal family and a Reddit user who initially shared the image, and we will update this post when, or if, we learn more about the image's backstory.

We ran the photograph through several detectors to confirm its authenticity, and, according to one of them, Fake Image Detector, the image had not been altered.

That said, it was unknown who took the photo, what flight it showed and from what locations the aircraft was taking off and heading. The airline workers' uniforms were generic; they do not give clues about the company that ran the flight.

However, we know the image was captured on or before January 2017 because, according to a reverse-image search, it has circulated online since then. The photo was initially shared to the internet via a Reddit post on Jan. 30, 2017 — a post that was upvoted 92,500 times and received 4,200 comments.

That 2017 Reddit post claimed an unidentified "captain friend" of the user sent the image to the user. We contacted the Reddit poster, hoping to learn more about the image and how it was obtained. We will update this story if the person responds.

Also, while the 2017 Reddit post claimed the birds were hawks, their pointed wings indicated they were, in fact, falcons. (Considering the allegation that the birds belonged to a Saudi prince, falcons make sense as they are the national birds of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.)

While most social media posts with the image did not name the falcons' alleged owner, one post on X (formerly Twitter) did. That December 2023 post suggested the birds belonged to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS [archived]:

We contacted the press office for the House of Saud — Saudi Arabia's royal family — and the Crown Prince Court to confirm or deny the claim. We will update this story if we receive a response.

While much was unknown about the photo, the scene it depicted was plausible. Falconry is a beloved hobby among wealthy people in certain parts of the world. Such trips are so common that airlines based in Arab countries, as well as other locations, have policies and rules on how to transport the birds.

On its website, UAE-based Etihad Airways explains a passenger can buy extra seats for falcons, whether in economy class or business class:

You can travel with a falcon for free as part of your cabin baggage allowance, or as checked baggage for US $500 per cage. In Economy, you're permitted to carry one falcon per person, or two falcons per additional seat. In Business you're permitted to carry two falcons per person, or three falcons per additional seat.

Emirates, also based in the UAE, says, "Pets are not permitted in the cabin, with the exception of falcons between Dubai and certain destinations in Pakistan." 

Some regions require special passports for the birds. In 2005, in an attempt to combat smuggling and comply with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Arab Emirates' government introduced new guidelines requiring falconers to present certain documentation to fly the birds in and out of the country.

People can obtain the falcon passports through the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, and each costs 200 dirhams (or about $54.46, as of this writing). Only citizens and residents can receive the passports, and they must prove they acquired their birds legally. Also, the government reserves the right to take DNA samples from the birds.

Saudia, based in Saudi Arabia, says, while falcons are allowed in the cabin, falconers must show that special documentation to legally take falcons into and out of the country (emphasis ours):

SAUDIA accepts the carriage of falcons in passenger cabin when properly hooded, accompanied by the handler and all procedures of entry permits and documents required by countries of entry or transit and valid Health Certificates have been completed provided that acceptance of carriage will be at the passenger's own risk.

Falcons are permitted to K.S.A. provided that necessary Health Certificates are obtained and a written approval from the National Commission for wildlife Conservation and Development in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In sum, while the in-question photo was real, it was unknown if it depicted a Saudi prince's 80 falcons for whom he purchased seats on an airplane, like social media posts claimed. Please contact us if you know anything about the image's backstory.


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Anna Rascouët-Paz is based in Brooklyn, fluent in numerous languages and specializes in science and economic topics.